Yoga is ok but saying ‘namaste’ is not?

Alabama has, after nearly three decades, lifted the ban on teaching yoga in public schools.

Alabama has lifted a three-decade-long ban on allowing yoga to be taught in its public schools – though the word “namaste” and chanting “om” will still be barred in classrooms.

Governor Kay Ivey, a Republican, signed a bill which overrides the state’s 1993 ban on yoga instruction and allows local school boards to decide whether students can be taught the ancient practice.

Some conservative Christian groups fought to retain the ban, arguing that allowing yoga in the classroom could result in children converting to Hinduism.

The final legislation was amended to include a regulation that parents must sign a permission slip for students to practice yoga.

Another amendment said: “School personnel may not use any techniques that involve hypnosis, the induction of a dissociative mental state, guided imagery, meditation, or any aspect of eastern philosophy and religious training.”

‘Namaste’ is just a form of greeting, a more respectful form of ‘hello’ that is from Sanskrit and means ‘I bow to you’ and is uttered with a slight bow when meeting someone. While ‘om’ is now used in chants in secular meditation practices, its origins do lie in Asian religions . The use of ‘om’ is now so widespread (and the word is so easy to make puns with) that it is often the source of humor.

I cannot see courts upholding the ban on saying words like ‘namaste’ and ‘om’ unless it is ruled that they are religious words. Even with ‘om’. the courts may rule that it has long since been stripped of its original religious meaning and is now just a word and thus exempt from the Establishment Clause. That is similar to the reasoning the US Supreme Court used in deciding that “In God We Trust” on US currency did not violate the Establishment Clause. I have not been able to find out if the ban on using these words has been challenged in court.

Apart from the legal issues, I find it extraordinary how the beliefs of some devout Christians are so fragile that just doing yoga and saying some words can undermine them.


  1. garnetstar says

    I asked my sister, a christian, once, what the problem of yoga, meditation, etc., was. She talked about opening oneself up to invasion by demons, literal demons, by the “control” that these practices get over your mind.

    She once refused to go on a walk with our other sister, who was wearning a necklace with symbols on it that my christian sister deemed demonic.

    One reason “namaste” is feared is that the hands are often held, when saying it, in what westerners call “the prayer position”, and cannot fathom that the position is not connected in any way with prayer in the countries where it originated.

    The fear, the literal fear, of inadvertently losing salvation by invading demons or inadvertent prayerful gestures that are not to the christian god, is astonishing. They all firmly support the doctrine of salvation by faith alone, and that no good works or moral life matters a bit. So, with such a nebulous criterion as your “faith”, you are left always wondering if you really have the requirement, and if you might lose it by some innocent inattention. It is indeed a fragile edifice.

  2. Rob Grigjanis says

    garnetstar @1:

    the position is not connected in any way with prayer in the countries where it originated.

    There is a connection to prayer;

    The Natya Shastra, a classical Indian dance text, describes it to be a posture where the two hands are folded together in a reverential state and that this is used to pray before a deity, receive any person one reveres and also to greet friends.The Natya Shastra further states that for prayers inside a temple, the Anjali mudra should be placed near one’s head or above, while meeting someone venerable it is placed in front of one’s face or chin, and for friends near one’s chest.

    It shouldn’t be surprising that such an ancient gesture has ties to religion.

  3. John Morales says

    Thing is, stuff can be religious and/or secular, so it’s [(R,S) | (R) | (S)].

    Very much depends on intent.

    And certainly applies to exercising and vocalising.

  4. publicola says

    Fundy christians are afraid of anything that might shine a light fallacy of their beliefs.

  5. Katydid says

    A former coworker of mine has a number of physical limitations that hinder her in moving around. I suggested a yoga class taught out of a church near her home because I knew she was one of the batshit Christians. There are all types of yoga poses from the crazy-athletic to the gentle stretching, and this church advertised that it was hosting the gentle stretching kind. I took up yoga to heal problems with my knee and shoulder that came out of a car accident, and I found yoga to be better than physical therapy and a whole lot cheaper.

    My coworker *lost her ever-loving mind* and started screeching that yoga poses were how people worshipped demons--it was even in the name of the poses. ( Like, Tree? Gate? Rainbow? Dog? Head-to-knee? Half-forward-fold? Lazy River?) There was simply no talking sense into her because she’d been very carefully programmed by her mega-church that yoga was Teh EBIL! and the church must therefore be a Satan-worshipping church.

  6. says

    Back in the day, fundies passed laws against certain kinds of erotica (mostly bdsm) on the basis that it was sexual abuse. Immediately I filed takedowns against videos or arts with crucifixes -- it’s pretty extreme bdsm/snuff content, after all. Oddly, fundies did not support my efforts to protect kids from objectionable material.

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